Navigating Christmas Parties and Dinners When You Have Dietary Needs
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!! I love Christmas – spending quality time with family and friends, buying and giving gifts, eating, drinking…and being merry! But the holiday season can be tough to navigate when you have food intolerances or dietary requirements like myself. There tends to be more temptation around food and alcohol that could derail even the most dedicated person. And the repercussions of over-indulging can be a lot more serious than just an added few pounds.
I can’t avoid (nor do I want to) Christmas parties and dinners but I have to be even more vigilant to avoid the slippery slope to inflammation and a Crohn’s flare.
Christmas Party Tips
Have a bite before: If I can, I make sure to eat something healthy and filling ahead of parties so I’m not reliant on finger foods there and I’m not tempted by unhealthy snacks. Nothing worse than turning up somewhere starving only to realise that there’s nothing there you can eat (or eating the food there that doesn’t agree with you)!
Bring your own: If it’s at a friend or relative’s house, I’ll bring some canapés and drinks that are suitable for my needs so I know that there’ll definitely be something I can eat and drink.
Drink a healthy MOCKtail: Unfortunately alcohol and I don’t mix very well. I find that my stomach never feels good the day(s) after so most of the time I just think it’s not worth it. It doesn’t have to be boring though, I like making a fun mocktail or my favourite simple mix of sparkling water with cranberry juice and a twist of lime or drinking gut-friendly kombucha. If I do choose to drink alcohol I make sure it’s a drink I absolutely love and savour the one or two. Ideally I’ll have the drinks with some food and make sure to drink plenty of water also. But most of the time I’m happy to go sober.
Mindset: I find that if I concentrate less on the food or drink and more on conversations and having fun, parties are a lot easier. I’m less bothered about the restrictions and more in the moment with the people I’m with.
Dinner Party Tips
For the most part, hosts are good about adapting to guests’ dietary needs. However they may not be as knowledgeable as you on what counts as ‘gluten free’ or ‘dairy free’ never mind ‘nightshade free’, ‘nut free’, ‘egg free’ or whatever your particular intolerance is.
Make a List for the Host: Draw up a list of foods you can and can’t have and post it where people can access it (e.g. Facebook), or email the list to the host well ahead of time. Putting down all the things you can have will probably make it less daunting and seem less restrictive for the host than just giving a list of things you can’t have.
Know and communicate your non-negotiables: My non-negotiables are definitely gluten and dairy. Once sauces/dressings are on the side I can probably work around all my other intolerances. Some intolerances I know won’t be the end of the world if I have. But to be on the safe side, I usually ask for something plain (usually meat and veg) and I can bring my own condiments should I want to add flavour.
Bring your own: If communicating your needs to the host is awkward and you’re worried about what will be served, offer to bring a dish that can be shared and is suitable to your needs. There are loads of recipes online now that re-work Christmas classics to healthier / gluten-free / dairy-free versions. Others may not even notice the difference, and sure what difference does it make if they do notice? Trying something different never did anyone any harm.
So while you may not want to offend the host, it’s more important to take care of your health and besides, it’s the company that matters most. I try to communicate that as much as I can to put the host at ease and to thank them for accommodating me and all their effort.
I’d love to hear your tips on navigating parties and dinners this holiday season.